14 May 2021

Staggered hours worth a shot to unlock city's roads

| Ian Bushnell
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Traffic on Adelaide Avenue

Traffic banked up along Adelaide Avenue. The government says staggered hours may help ease the squeeze. Photo: Supplied.

The Canberra Liberals may have ridiculed the idea, but the ACT Government’s staggered-hours proposal to ease peak traffic congestion as part of its Public Transport Recovery Plan is nothing new.

Singapore has had such schemes for years, Honululu trialled a scheme as far back as the late 1980s and most developed economies, where flexible hours are already part of the modern work landscape, are using or considering versions as part of their recovery from the economic disruption of the pandemic.

Transport Canberra and City Services Minister Chris Steel says traffic volumes in Canberra are currently exceeding pre-pandemic levels because people have not yet returned to public transport, a trend seen in other cities across Australia and the world.

Morning and afternoon crunch points across the city, which have intensified in recent times, typically only last for short periods when everybody leaves home or work at about the same time.

Mr Steel is also concerned about the coming disruption from major infrastructure projects such as Stage 2 of light rail in and around Canberra’s city centre.

“We are keen to explore further opportunities to spread out peak demand on our roads network during the morning and afternoon commutes,” he said.

“We want to avoid Canberrans sitting in their cars for 40 minutes to an hour when they could have a shorter, more convenient commute by travelling a little earlier or later.”

He says the government will be talking to the ACT’s employers, including both the ACT and Commonwealth public service, about flexible working arrangements outside of the standard 9-to-5.

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But Liberal Transport spokesperson Mark Parton says it is not up to businesses to be changing rosters and the times people come to work.

“The public transport system is there to support the city, support the community and support workplaces and businesses; not the other way around,” said Mr Parton.

“Workplaces aren’t there to prop up the public transport system, and it’s ridiculous to believe that could ever be the case.”

He also says cafes and restaurants need to open at certain times to serve their customers and don’t need extra pressure from government to recover from the pandemic’s impacts.

But in a public service city like Canberra, the idea is worth a shot, and it is doubtful whether Mr Steel is banking on cafe staff to help free up the city’s roads.

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Mr Steel says no business will be required to make these changes, and the government is starting with its own workers.

“The ACT Government has already commenced scoping of options for more flexible working for our own employees, building on practices adopted during 2020,” he says.

“We will also be engaging with major Commonwealth public service agencies and businesses based along the light rail route. The past year has shown that employees can be very productive without working a strict 9-to-5 day, so we are optimistic that employers will embrace practices that help spread the peak.”

Mr Steel says the government will also be talking with other employers over the coming months.

“We want to understand what is going to work best and how our investments in public transport can work in partnership with other initiatives to keep Canberra moving,” he says.

Getting people back on the buses and light rail is still the main game, and the idea has its pros and cons, but it is far from ridiculous.

Mr Steel might also argue for staggered hours to allow Access Canberra shopfronts to operate from, say, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, so people can get chores, like renewing a driver’s licence done, before or after work, again something that is possible elsewhere.

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consumeradvocatecanberra1:33 pm 08 May 21

Most folk don’t get it. Canberrans love their cars and have done so for 30 years. It’s quick and convenient. But, imagine carpooling (after finding someone who is not a murderer to travel with), and that could take 50% of cars off the road. Labor advisor says there is no spare capacity on the highways. But imagine if just 67 people got the bus to work. that is 65 car space on the road freed up. Nope, don’t want to do that either. How about talking to the commuters in the catchments and find out their preferences. Wow! Imagine-no guessing, just real data and match it with real routes that commuters can commit to. A no brainer for the majority of us but sadly not those running things….move on Labor. You don’t get it.

HiddenDragon7:40 pm 05 May 21

The virus has obviously been a disrupting and complicating factor, but this really does look a lot like pigeons coming home to roost for a government which has now had two decades to deliver good transport options which meet the needs of Canberrans – but ideology, political imperatives, and a ham-fisted pursuit of revenue objectives have taken priority over that.

The item run by ABC TV news last weekend – which was fairly obviously meant to be helpful to the ACT Government – was, if anything, just another illustration of the contradictions at play in this policy space in Canberra –


Hearing a minister in what claims to be the most progressive government in Australia running Thatcheresque economist rationalist talking points about user pays was truly striking.

Public service staging of start hours has been around for some decades. Its called Flextime and has been available at least since the early 1980s. The only issue is some idiot decided that it should not be used in some departments as people might cheat on their hours. Since the mid 1990s the roads have clogged up as a result. Add to this the ACT government’s desire to be just like other cities thoroughly messed up the neatly planned capital. The plan was for people to work in the satellite city in which they lived. But ACT Gov. decided to do their best to have as many of their departments in Civic – so they could have a “real” CBD and charge higher land rates.

We had flexitime and we had clocks, do there was no way someone could cheat on their hours. Whether the individual actually worked when they got to work, that’s another problem. Long smoke breaks and the like, and doing as little work as possible. However, that’s how it has always been. Fortunately the smoker didn’t last.

Here’s a novel idea for the Transport Minister.

How about you don’t change the bus system to make trips to work slower for a large chunk of Tuggeranong, Woden and Belconnen residents.

Bus commuters going to work from these areas dropped by 5% and car use increased before the pandemic, not just afterwards.

ChrisinTurner10:49 am 05 May 21

Good grief! Is our peak hour now exceeding 5 minutes!

You know what would make people use the public transport system? Busses to where people want to go in a fast rapid pace. If I was a worker in Belconnen and worked in tuggeranong, my options are… Drive down the parkway, or an hour and a quarter sitting on a bus. Maybe if they didn’t funnel every major transport route through the city, and add some loop services, things would be better.

As to staggered work times, most federal departments allow this, so why is it an issue? The big draw card of traffic isn’t work, its school. Stagger school starting times would be a more efficient way of dealing with traffic, since that is something the government, you know, controls, not having to rely on the whim of business owners.

Spot on. Buses used to go down the Tuggeranong Parkway and Monaro highway on the quickest route to your destination. They moved at roughly the same speed as your car.

Then some bright spark thought it would be good to take the buses off the fastest trunk roads and instead meander through traffic light infested roads picking up pedestrians all along the likes of Athlonn Dr.

It’s hard to tell whether it’s sheer stupidity or a longer term plan to make Light Rail more viable when compared to an inter town centre bus service.

Staggered work hours to reduce congestion was put forward as an alternative to building the tram, but the regime wasn’t interested, now they want to stagger work hours while they extend the tram.

ChrisinTurner10:50 am 05 May 21

The tram increased journey times as predicted. The Mitchell stop was removed to try and beat the bus journey times.

That is false. In the morning peak hour buses used to take about 45 minutes to do Gungahlin to City, the afternoon peak was a little better at around 35 mins city to Gungahlin.

Off peak buses did the same trip in 25 minutes. Which is the same time the tram takes both peak and off peak.

Sure some people now need to change at Gungahlin in the peak, but seeing as there is a tram every 5 mins that’s still a vast improvement over the buses.

The biggest issue with buses in Gungahlin and elsewhere for that matter is the time they take to go from town centres to the suburbs, but reality is there is little way to make that faster.

I agree with you regards to the comments on stage 1 of light rail previously. But if you want to raise it, it’s interesting that COVID has resulted in the light rail not meeting its targets for usage in 2021. One of the selling points of inflexibility has now become a negative from a public transport perspective.

And from above, I would ask are you against Stage 2? Because it clearly fails with regards to providing a much slower service from Woden to Civic than the current express Buses do.

Is the billions of dollars of expenditure the best use of taxpayers money?

I’ve been on record on this board many times that I don’t agree with stage 2 going to Woden. I think it should have gone to Kingston basically following the route of stage 2 from the city as far as Canberra Ave and then down to the railway station.

Two reasons is the existing high density in that area, and to also join the city with the main work areas of the Parl triangle.

I’ve always said the benefit of light rail is servicing the corridor not end to end travel. In the case of Gungahlin the old 200 buses were not expresses so easy to replace but woden and south to Tuggeranong not so.

That said a service to Molongolo would be sensible as an extension to what I suggested above.

Except the economics for a Kingston leg would be significantly worse than even the currently proposed Woden route (which doesn’t stack up) so why would you support either?

I’d love a government supplied Ferrari delivering me door to door also, but anyone that recognises that government funds are limited wouldn’t support such largesse.

It’s a fair point Chewy. The Transport Minister was on ABC and mentioned that Stage 1 Light Rail benefited commuters by providing a faster service from Gungahlin than the Bus service. Less than a minute later he was completely contradicting himself by saying that stage 2 light rail being slower than the Bus wasn’t an issue or drawback at all to the stage 2 project.

ABC interviewer didn’t even follow up this clear inconsistency. Steele definitely gets a rails run from ABC interviewers.

Easy to make Cost Benefits analysis stack up when you game the system and ignore Auditor General advice.

Not sure I would agree with the assertion that Kingston wouldn’t stack up or would be worse than Woden. There are already plenty of potential passengers in that area with scope and plans for more.

And let us not forget the main gain to government is through higher land values which would steam from such a route. Like has happened on stage 1. So the Ferrari analogy doesn’t stack up when you consider the not so obvious benefits and gains.

What evidence do you have to show that the Kingston line would stack up? The government’s own analysis shows that the second stage of light rail doesn’t break even.

Perhaps a link to support your opinion?

The main benefit is not only from higher land values but developing empty government owned land, of which there is almost zero of on a Kingston route.

Although at least you admit that this isn’t about public transport so why should we be spending billions of dollars so already well off land holders can make windfall profits. Seems the cognitive dissonance is very strong here.

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